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Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flys about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

Gadfly: Blood will have blood

For Malcolm and his lady Lucy Turnbull it was a most suitable night at the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Macbeth

The glow of greatness hung over the minister for communications as he sat through the terrible tragedy, with Hugo Weaving turning in a mighty performance as the murdering usurper of the Scottish throne. 

As the monstrous leader goes increasingly mad and unravels before our eyes, consulting frontbench witches and becoming more tyrannical by the moment, forces led by Prince Malcolm storm the castle and behead the evil king. 

We’ve recently seen too much of this sort of behaviour reported in the media. But, after viewing the head, Malcolm knows that peace has come to his troubled land and announces that a new benevolent dictatorship is the proper order of the day. He invites his devoted followers to see him crowned king at Scone. 

Fittingly, Scone is the NSW rural seat of the Member for Wentworth, Prince Malcolm. 

Since the witches’ prophecies are rarely wrong, there can be no escaping this inevitability.   

The performance ended to prolonged applause from the Prince and Princess in the dress circle. 

All hail, great masters

One of the adorable things about Australia has been that politicians and other bigwigs traditionally have not been entirely hermetically sealed from the masses. They can walk around the streets, hang out at the shopping centre and get booed at the football. 

So it came as a deflating moment to see people hovered on street corners speaking into their cufflinks, squads of motorcycle police, sirens wailing, sinister black wagons, limos with flags fluttering, all blasting through Sydney’s CBD on Monday. 

This was a full-speed procession, American-style, no doubt turned on for the benefit of the AUSMIN visitors, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary for War Chuck Hagel, plus their army of attendants and Australian bootlickers led by Julie (Death Stare) Bishop

This show of imperial automobile authority demonstrated who really runs the place. There was a momentary sensation that we were on the old streets of Paraguay, with a speeding motorcade whisking President Alfredo Stroessner to his favourite restaurant for some chicken soup and cornmeal dumplings. 

Giving the devil his due

The genteel surrounds of the State Library of Victoria were the setting for the launch of historian Liz Morrison’s book, David Syme: Man of the Age

Sending the tome down the sales slipway was Emeritus Professor Graeme Davison

Davison touched on Syme’s attempts to denounce the obviously absurd theories of Charles Darwin. The prof also revealed that Syme hired and mentored a young stringer on a suitably pathetic rate – one Keith Murdoch, who went on to spawn the devil himself.  So it is at Syme’s feet that a lot of the responsibility for the mass propagation of loopy free market theories and social policy should rest. 

Also in the launch throng was chrome-domed Fairfax supremo Greg Hywood, far from the empire’s HQ and spiteful sharks such as John Singleton, who called him “a third rater ... and obviously an idiot”. Hywood did as expected at a book launch and praised Syme’s business acumen, while refugees from purges at The Age pondered the irony of a proprietor who built up a once great organ being praised by a boss who is in charge of gutting it. 

These viperous slanders enter

A glance at the NSW Supreme Court’s weekly defamation call-over list gives you a good view of the slings and arrows plaintiffs have endured at the hands of the meeja. 

Doc Fredrick Töben, Holocaust “historian” from the Adelaide Institute, is suing Clive Mathieson, a functionary at The Australian, who slaves under the command of über editor Chris Mitchell

Andrew Kelly, who in December 2011 the ICAC found to have engaged in corrupt conduct in relation to Sydney Harbour foreshore property deals, is taking on Fairfax. Ex-telecoms businessman Tony Hakim is suing the ABC over a November 2010 Four Corners program, “Bad Call”. Various members of Schapelle Corby’s family are wanting damages from Allen & Unwin, which published Eamonn Duff’s book Sins of the Father

And Gordon Wood, whose conviction for the murder of Caroline Byrne was overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeal, is suing just about everyone – 2GB, 2UE, Channel 7 and News. Let’s hope those glittering reputations are restored to their rightful places. 

In Canberra there is a special defamation case in which Justice Michael Adams (NSW Supreme Court) is suing Fairfax star writer Jack Waterford. It’s not often you see a judge as a defamation plaintiff, but HH is looking for balm after publication of a story criticising the conduct of prosecutors and police in the notorious David Eastman murder conviction. 

Adams was the lead prosecutor at Eastman’s trial. At a recent inquiry into the conviction, conducted by Acting Justice Brian Martin, Adams was pressed on the failure of the prosecution to disclose to the defence information that should have been revealed about the ballistics expert, Robert Barnes

Martin found the prosecution did not intentionally withhold the information. Nonetheless, without that disclosure Eastman was denied a fair trial. To complicate matters, Martin added: “While I’m fairly certain the applicant is guilty of the murder of the deceased, a nagging doubt remains.”  

The ACT Supreme Court is currently trying to work out what to do, and whether a new “nagging doubt” test can be introduced to the criminal justice system. 

Give thy thoughts no tongue

In other pockets of the land the free speech struggle rages. Earlier this month an outfit called the International Mining for Development Centre (IM4DC) held a workshop hosted by Ipswich City Council, with delegates from Asia, Africa, South America and the South Pacific. 

IM4DC is funded out of Australia’s aid budget and its job is to spread the message on the wonders of mining and the joys it can bring to a society. 

The Ipswich event was a winner and even included a presentation by a Julie Devine, a spokeswoman from the Lock the Gate Alliance. Julie’s message was decidedly anti-mining and suddenly mushrooming around the room were people holding up the distinctive yellow Lock the Gate placards. 

Councillor David Pahlke was inspired to post a photo of the naughty protesters on his blog, which is part of the council’s website, only to get a good ticking-off from Robin Evans, deputy director of IM4DC, who asked him to remove this decidedly unsupportive snap from the internet and never use it again. 

Robin added: “I hope you understand our concerns, which are guided by the need to ensure that our participants are not placed in compromising situations, which could in turn jeopardise any future programs or visits of this nature.” 

Since then the “compromising” photo has popped up in media outlets across Queensland. So much for keeping the lid on things. 

The charmed pot

Still in the minerals sector, it’s comforting to see the Institute of Paid Advocacy has conducted a massive study into the ABC’s reporting on coalmining and renewal energy. The shock findings are that My ABC broadcasts more stories supportive of renewables than it does of coal and coal seam gas mining. There was an example on Lateline, which reported on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation after Treasurer Joe Hockey had instructed it to stop further investments. 

Presenter Tony Jones told the audience: “Now, independent legal advice backed by one of the country’s top constitutional lawyers says the CEFC is legally obliged to ignore the minister’s request.” The IPA’s study claims that advice had been sought by the Australian Conservation Foundation. The IPA describes this environmental lobby group as “highly political, highly ideological and highly contentious”. 

Mr Kettle, meet Miss Pot.

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 16, 2014 as "Gadfly: Blood will have blood". Subscribe here.

Richard Ackland
is the publisher of Justinian. He is The Saturday Paper’s diarist-at-large and legal affairs editor.